The government is preparing to increase protection for intellectual property rights abroad regarding fruits and vegetables developed in Japan, after it was found that seeds and seedlings have been exported illegally and produced without authorization.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry plans to help domestic seed and seedling growers register overseas the varieties they develop in Japan.

It has been found that Benihoppe strawberries developed by Shizuoka Prefecture and Shine Muscat grapes developed by a Japanese research institute have been grown and sold in China without the developers’ permission.

“We are concerned that the grape produced in our prefecture and unauthorized products could compete against each other in export markets,” a Shizuoka Prefectural Government official said.

Japanese-developed fruits and vegetables are known for their high quality and brand power, and therefore are important for achieving the government’s goal of raising annual exports of agriculture, forestry and fisheries products and food items to ¥1 trillion.

Intellectual property rights for new plant varieties are protected in Japan for 25 to 30 years if they are registered with the government under the plant variety protection and seed act. Violators face fines and other punishment.

However, many Japanese varieties are not registered abroad due to high costs and lengthy procedures.

It takes seven to eight years, for example, to register a new persimmon variety in the European Union because the product needs to be grown locally on a trial basis. The heavy screening cost, around ¥2.5 million, is another hurdle.

The ministry has called on countries and regions to shorten the screening periods dramatically by using results obtained in Japan. It has already signed a memorandum of understanding with nine economies, including the European Union and Australia, while aiming to speed up negotiations with other countries and regions.

The ministry plans to seek funds in the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2016 to create subsidies to help Japanese firms cover part of their registration screening costs abroad, with an eye to promoting registrations by smaller businesses. The extra budget is expected to be compiled in autumn.

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